Deconstructing Old Overholt Bonded Rye Whiskey

For sale: birectifier ($1800USD)

It seemed like a good idea to deconstruct the new and very exemplary Old Overholt bonded rye whiskey as the first whiskey to be explored with the birectifier. It was selected to beg additional questions such as how would a bourbon or regular Overholt compare? Is there something unique about the grains and how might we explore that? Is there anything unique about whiskey fractions or do Arroyo’s birectifier ideas easily translate across spirit categories?

From each 25 ml fraction I used the modified German protocol where I took 5 ml and diluted the first four fractions 3x and the last four fractions only 2x. The 20 ml remainder of each fraction was transferred to storage in 2 oz. Boston bottles for future analysis.

To try and reduce palate fatigue, I tasted the fractions in the order of 6,7,8 then 3,2,1 then 4,5.

 [the emulsion in fraction 5 eventually settled over night, just like rum oil]

Fraction 1: Quite intense with culinary and non-culinary aromas perceived as a distinct interval. Not horribly unpleasant to drink. Though not exactly more concentrated than any of the rums I’ve analyzed, somehow this fraction seems to be more complex than any of the rums.

Fraction 2: There is a banana aroma which I’ve yet to encounter before. Often this fraction has a hollow ghost-of-a-fruit character, but this is distinctly banana, which could indicate a specific ester. It is pleasant and nothing seems concentrated enough to be non-culinary. I remember reading that banana is often an ester of a higher alcohol and considered a flaw in brandies because it is overly salient and distracting. It becomes prominent in some continuous column spirits because higher alcohols bunch up in a zone and fatty acids pass through, increasing odds of a marriage.

Fraction 3: Far more aromatic than I thought. Very bubble gummy.

Fraction 4: When you inhale while nosing, it really creeps into your lungs like a wraith. Sinister AF. More concentrated and more sharply acrid than any of the rums I’ve previously tasted. This is a bench mark to know and is no doubt exactly as rye should be.

Fraction 5: I shook this fraction up to distribute the emulsion and 20 minutes later small droplets of oil are already separated on top in my nosing glass. The aroma is sexy and quickly erases the horror of fraction 4. This is where the aroma of the grain resides. It has an angular drying rye-ness. This seems to have more in common with fraction 5 of the pear eau-de-vie than that of the rums. It is concentrated and not exactly pleasant to drink, but not as sharp and undrinkable as other fraction 5’s. There is a remarkable persistence on the palate.

Fraction 6: Smells faintly like what could only be called heavy aromas. Not much acidity and there is a faint petrol character. This petrol character seems like the faintest version of what was in the 24 year Jamaica rum. I’m pretty sure they did not share the same volumetric flask, but I should probably upgrade my cleaning to reduce any doubts because this character is special.

Fraction 7: Aroma is fainter, but the acidity seems stronger.

Fraction 8: Hard to differentiate from Fraction 7.

As I worked on this, I immediately thought of Distiller’s Workbook exercise 9 of 15 which was conceived to help distillers capture a glimpse of the character of grains to influence the stylistic elaboration of their mash bills. To adapt this for the birectifier, we would take a volume of neutral spirits scaled to 100 ml of absolute ethanol with an amount of grains scaled for potential alcohol. We could then look to see if anything comparative to the above Overholt experience ended up in fraction 5.

If this pans out, it would allow us to compare grains. Grains are likely like grape varietals in the way that few varietals have the properties to produce a Cognac. If they don’t, no one bothers with making aromatic brandy from them because it is a waste of time. Grains may be similar and oats/quinoa may or may not be a waste of time. If this birectifier hypothesis pans out, we may have a valuable short cut to evaluating grains.

What could also happen is that we find this aroma needs to be unlocked by fermentation, very much like the glycocides and carotenoids in molasses. Who really knows?, but the birectifier will help us figure it out on the quick.

The next quick question to ask the birectifier, since interesting fraction 5’s are turning up across categories in role model spirits, is what happens when we bump a vinegar to 100 ml of absolute alcohol and then distill it?

A Distiller’s Workbook exercise that never came to be was making a brandy from apple cider vinegar. The acetic acid was neutralized with baking soda to lock it up and it was distilled in conjunction with vodka. This was years ago, and what I found was that the baking soda also locked up a lot of the aroma and I couldn’t sufficiently neutralize all the acetic acid.

If repeated the exercise now, we wouldn’t bother with baking soda, we’d only look for extraordinary fraction 5’s. Natural vinegars are known for health benefits and much of it may all lie in fraction 5.

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